New Orleans Saints: Chris Long

Know the enemy: Saints on Quinn, Long

December, 14, 2013
METAIRIE, La. – The New Orleans Saints have featured one of the best young pass-rushing tandems in the NFL this year in Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette. On Sunday they’ll face another dynamic duo – the St. Louis Rams’ Robert Quinn and Chris Long.

C. Long
Quinn and Long have combined for 19.5 sacks this year – 13 of them from Quinn, which ranks second in the NFL.

Quinn is a third-year pro who was drafted along with Jordan in that outstanding defensive draft class of 2011. But the way players describe the Rams duo, Quinn is more like Galette – a speed rusher with an unpredictable arsenal of moves. And Long is more like Jordan – a relentless, physical power rusher.

Quinn (6-foot-4, 264 pounds) also has 10 quarterback hits and 42 hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. That gives him PFF's second-highest pass-rush grade in the league (behind Houston’s J.J. Watt and ahead of Jordan).

Long, a sixth-year pro, has 6.5 sacks this year and a total of 33 over the previous three years – including a three-sack game against the Saints in 2011. The 6-3, 268-pounder has six QB hits and 32 hurries, according to Pro Football Focus.

Here’s what the Saints are saying about Quinn and Long this week:

Coach Sean Payton: “They’re different types of players and yet they are both very productive guys when it comes to rushing the passer and they are both equally as productive in the run game. [Quinn] is extremely powerful with very good edge speed. There is about two or three rush moves that he gives you that become real problematic. When the both of them get going, that combination is as good as we have seen. You just watch it on tape, teams that get into predictable passing situations and the challenges that they present is very difficult. [Quinn’s] speed and power, he is very athletic and he can really bend a corner and lay low. Both of those guys are a handful. …

“[Long] plays with a great motor. He’s very talented. He’s explosive. The snap that you get on play No. 4, you’re going to get that same energy, that same ability to get off on the snap count on play No. 34. He goes extremely hard. He’s very smart. He plays with very good leverage. You see him get on the edge of tackles. You see him rush with power. You see him rush with speed. He presents a lot of challenges.”

RT Zach Strief: “I think both of them have excellent get-offs, especially at home. They’re really good at anticipating the snap count and getting off the ball. I think Robert Quinn shows really high-end athleticism. He bends very well. He’s a little unorthodox. He’s so athletic he can make moves and cuts off the opposite foot than you would normally think. … What makes him so difficult is he’s unpredictable. You don’t have that instinct with him because he does things most guys don’t do. …

“I think Chris Long is one of the hardest-playing defensive ends you’ll see in the NFL. Really plays with a lot of effort. Powerful guy, plays with his hands well. Really physical player, and yet shows a good burst to threaten you on the edge, to make you feel like you’ve got to get back.”

RG Jahri Evans: “They’re good, obviously. I think Quinn is better this year than he was last year. He’s a little bit more seasoned. He’s a good pass-rusher. Long is good, too. They just play left and right, so Quinn’s over the left tackle. They get up the field. Long is powerful. Quinn is a lot more speed, and the speed sets up the power for him. But I like our matchups. I think our tackles are good. Zach’s good against power, and Charles [Brown] is very athletic, so I think we’ll be fine.”

LT Charles Brown: “In that game [when Long had three sacks in 2011], he was timing up my punch pretty well. So when I would throw it, he would swipe it and get the edge and he got me on two good rushes. … I know to change it up now. He definitely had more experience than me at that point. He was a great player and he was a better player that day.”

QB Drew Brees: “Their whole defensive front, including their defensive ends, Long and Quinn, have done a great job all year long of getting pressure on the quarterback. They are a great tandem, one of the best in the league.”

Strief: “I see Chris being somewhat similar to Cam. Not super similar body-wise, but in terms of anticipating snap count, getting off tackles, moving people physically. … It’s almost hard to compare Junior or Robert Quinn to anybody, because they’re both unorthodox guys. So if you were to say there’s a similarity, it’s that there’s not many people like either of them.”

Double Coverage: Saints at Rams

December, 13, 2013
Drew Brees and Zac StacyGetty Images, USA TODAY SportsDrew Brees and the Saints are piling up numbers, but Zac Stacy and the Rams may give them trouble.

While the New Orleans Saints come to the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday with plenty to play for, the St. Louis Rams have been eliminated from playoff contention.

The scenario of the Rams playing out the string and the Saints pushing for prime seeding in the NFC is one we've seen before. But, for whatever reason, the Rams have beaten or played the Saints tough in recent meetings. In addition, Rams coach Jeff Fisher has a history of success against New Orleans.

In this week’s edition of Double Coverage, Rams reporter Nick Wagoner and Saints reporter Mike Triplett discuss the Rams’ relative success against the Saints, and much more.

Wagoner: The Rams are out of the mix for the postseason and again playing a much better New Orleans team at home. In 2011, the Rams stunned everyone by knocking off the Saints in a somewhat similar situation. It seems New Orleans has struggled to find traction on the road this year. Anything in particular you can point to for those problems?

Triplett: Well, first of all, the Saints hate that question. But it keeps coming up this year because they have struggled quite a bit on the road -- they're 3-3, and two of their wins were surprisingly low-scoring. The Saints actually have the best road record in the NFL since 2009 (24-14). But part of the reason they catch so much heat for looking so human on the road is because they play so super-human at home (as former linebacker Scott Shanle said recently).

There’s no one real consistent theme for their road struggles. Sometimes it has been weather conditions or footing -- neither of which will be an issue on Sunday. And sometimes, of course, they just come out flat. But I don’t expect that from the Saints this week since they know how much is on the line with the playoffs looming.

Nick, with no playoff hopes to inspire the Rams, do you see them treating this game with the same intensity? I know they’re coming off two losses on the road. Have you seen any signs that they can bounce back and cause trouble for the Saints?

Wagoner: Speaking of questions teams hate, Fisher doesn't appreciate anything that looks at the big picture or beyond the next game. For all the problems this team has, effort and buy-in aren't on the list. The Rams have nothing tangible to play for this season, but this is the youngest team in the league and there are plenty at Rams Park who have long insisted that the target year for a breakout is 2014. To get there, they need to continue to make strides over the final three weeks, so I would expect them to put up more of a fight to close out the season.

As it pertains to the Saints specifically, the Rams have a habit this season of playing good teams pretty tough, save for San Francisco. They've beaten Arizona, Indianapolis and Chicago, and they gave Seattle all it could handle at home. There's no guarantee they can carry that over to Sunday, but after two bad performances the past two weeks, I expect a more representative performance against New Orleans.

One storyline that intrigues me here is the presence of Rob Ryan. The Saints went from a former Rams head coach at defensive coordinator (Steve Spagnuolo) in 2012 to one who looked like he was about to become the Rams' coordinator this year. How has Ryan been able to turn around that defense in one year, and what are the biggest differences?

Triplett: Yeah, the Saints definitely owe the Rams an apology for that one -- or a thank-you note. Ryan has made a huge impact. His two most important qualities are probably his attitude and his creativity. Players immediately responded to his enthusiasm and his energy level. They say Ryan makes the game fun, something players have said about him throughout his career. Just as important, he has shown enough flexibility to mold his defense around the players he’s working with (which became a necessity when they suffered a handful of key summer injuries).

I've been especially impressed by the way Ryan has featured young pass-rushers Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette and rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro, among others. And he’ll throw a ton of different looks at teams from week to week and series to series. I’m shocked that this is the first time Ryan’s had a winning season as a defensive coordinator. He obviously found the right fit for himself in New Orleans.

Tell me about the Rams' defense. Any chance they can hang with the Saints’ potent offense? Who might match up against tight end Jimmy Graham and the running backs who catch passes out of the backfield?

Wagoner: The Rams' defense has been especially hard to figure. They expected to be a top-10 group but haven't been able to do it for a few reasons. The pass rush has games where it absolutely dominates and takes over. Robert Quinn has emerged as one of the game's best and Chris Long is still dangerous. When the pass rush is humming, it makes life miserable for opponents. That's the Rams' best hope for slowing down the Saints.

But the Rams don't match up all that well with New Orleans on the back end. The secondary has struggled mightily, especially at safety. Graham is a matchup nightmare for all teams, and he could really expose the Rams’ issues at safety. The Rams drafted linebacker Alec Ogletree to help neutralize guys like Graham, and he could get the call on Sunday. He's a former safety playing linebacker and has at times flashed elite cover skills for a linebacker. But I think he's flattened out a bit in that area in recent weeks while his run-stopping skills have improved. The secondary is going to require major upgrades in the offseason, and given the Saints' weapons, anything short of a dominant pass rush will make for a long day for the Rams.

While we're talking about the Saints' offense, it seems like it's as good as ever, with Drew Brees putting together another monster season. You see that group every day and every week in games. Are there weaknesses that can be exploited, and how have teams found success in slowing them down?

Triplett: Every once in a while, the Saints’ passing offense does get slowed down. The best way to succeed against them is to get physical and disruptive in coverage -- bumping and chipping guys at the line, pushing the envelope within the 5 yards of contact and trying to stay tight on them down the field. It worked for New England (in heavy man coverage) and Seattle (more zone coverage). But it’s easier said than done. The Panthers tried to play physical this past week, but they didn't have the manpower to stop Graham and receiver Marques Colston. The Saints usually burn defenses with their “pick your poison” offense since they are so deep and versatile.

Interesting that you brought up Ogletree. I liked him as a possible pick for the Saints in April. Instead, they drafted another disruptive athlete -- Vaccaro -- who has made a nice impact in a versatile role. One of the main reasons the Saints drafted Vaccaro was because they liked his ability to cover slot receivers like Tavon Austin. I saw Austin’s breakout performance a couple weeks ago. Any chance he can be that X factor on Sunday?

Wagoner: Well, Austin suffered an ankle injury against Arizona last week and Fisher has called him day-to-day. If Austin plays, it’s possible his ankle could slow him down a bit. Considering his game relies so much on speed and elusiveness, an ankle injury could affect him more than it might other players. If he’s OK, he certainly could be an X factor. Without Sam Bradford at quarterback, the Rams really struggle to put together long drives. They need big plays to keep up in most games, and Austin is the one guy capable of consistently providing them. If they don’t have him, it’s going to make an already difficult task even tougher.